A Cuban Teacher in Mexico

Erasmo Calzadilla

Cuban highway bridge. Photo: Caridad

A friend told me this story about the experience of a young Cuban woman: a teacher who emigrated to Mexico City to escape the hunger and other miseries suffered during the most critical moments of the Special Period crisis in Cuba in the early ‘90s.  “Carla,” let’s call her, quickly found work in a private high school; she was ecstatic.

When exam time came, Carla drafted her test and presented it to the principal, who took no time in calling the young woman into the office.  Carla showed up primed and trimmed with her new shoes and her recently braided hair, without knowing she was going to receive a warning.

With a strange sort of kindness shown toward the Cuban, the director pointed out an error in the exam, which included questions requiring analysis and reflection.  It’s not that Carla was an active opponent of mechanistic evaluations, but the idea of asking the students to “mark the right answer with an x” made her feel frustrated.

For a while she tried to explain to the know-it-all how ill-suited such questions were.  The principal listened until she finished and then calmly warned Carla: “Either you fix it or we will.”

It was a clear threat, but strange…inexpressive.  That’s why it took Carla a few seconds to understand that along that path there would be no more exotic braids or shiny new shoes, and she accepted being mediocre without being so.

Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

4 thoughts on “A Cuban Teacher in Mexico

  • Erasmo,

    What strikes me about a lot of your criticisms is how universal they are… you may be writing with particular reference to the Cuban reality, but mediocrity and mechanistic learning in education are problems throughout the world. Even ideology plays a part. The so called “freedoms” that exist in the West give the impression of openess, but try writing something against the prevailing winds and you will have an uphill struggle…

    A “devastating critique of the pretensions of economists” has won praise – from an economist. The article by Financial Times journalist Gideon Rachman described economists as “pseudo-scientists” who suffered from “physics envy” in their quest for predictive “laws” and called on them to “learn a few lessons from history – or more precisely from historians”. On 8 September, Mr Rachman was congratulated on the piece in a letter to the editor from Hugh Goodacre, teaching Fellow in the department of economics at University College London, who celebrated the fact that although he had “to settle for the humble position of teaching Fellow”, he had “at last been assigned a course on the history of economic thought”. “Please spare a thought for those few beleaguered souls within the profession who are equally critical of the dominant orthodoxy,” was Dr Goodacre’s plea.

    Dr Goodacre is a friend of mine 😉

  • Val: What an inappropriate, juvenile comment! It has been well said that “It’s often better to remain silent and be thought an idiot, than to speak up and remove all doubt.”

  • Blah-blah-blah, everything Cuban is “the best”, everything non-Cuban is mediocre blah-blah-blah… Boring!

  • Hi Erasmo,
    Bienvenidos! I am also a new teacher living in Mexico. I failed to understand the point of your story. Admittedly this is the first one I have read by you. Were you trying to insinuate that this administrator was promoting “mechanistic” examination techniques or schools in general promote this ideology? if it was just about this administrator then I am not sure why your friend had to settle for mediocrity. If you are insinuating that this is endemic in the education system, then I would disagree. Admittedly I work at an international school and most of the international schools that I have worked at are quite progressive pedagogically.
    So what is your point? If I were marking your paper, I would give you lower marks for not having come to a conclusion or having made a hasty conclusion.
    Mark the teacher

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